Toronto Sun football columnist Mike Ganter offers 15.5 questions heading into the 2011 NFL draft, along with a couple more head-scratchers.
1. Are there any teams that believe Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert are franchise quarterbacks?
This will go a long way to determining the first 10 picks off the board. If teams believe in either or both, they will likely be snapped up in the first five picks. The trickle down effect could leave more proven players like Patrick Peterson available for a team picking later.
2. Has Auburn DT Nick Fairley’s stock really dropped this much?
At the NFL Combine Fairley was widely considered a good bet to be taken first overall. Less than two months later, it’s possible Fairley could drop right out of the top 10. From one-year wonder to responsibility concerns, there’s been a lot of mud thrown Fairley’s way. The question is was it done by design?
3. A.J. Green’s sure hands or Julio Jones all-around game?
The top two receivers in the draft both have their backers. Green began the process as unquestionably the No. 1 but a blistering 40 at the NFL Combine by Jones and the feeling that Jones will be more likely to help you without the ball in his hands (he’s an enthusiastic blocker) turned the tide a little. It seems to have swung back Green’s way in the past week or so, but it’s an interesting one to watch. Both should be gone by the 10th or at worst 14th pick.
4. How low will NFL teams let LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, possibly the most complete player in the draft, fall?
This is all about the position he plays. Despite the widely accepted notion the NFL is more than ever a passing league, there is still this reluctance to put a financial priority on the guys defending the pass. Peterson should be a top 3 pick in this draft without question. But because corners traditionally are not considered worthy of such a pick, he’ll likely fall. But ask yourself this. Wouldn’t just about every team in the league wish they had spent a high draft pick on the Jets’ Darrelle Revis?
5. Do the Cincinnati Bengals believe Carson Palmer when he says he’ll retire if he’s not traded?
This is another draft changer. If the Bengals believe they have to get a quarterback at No. 4, that decision will have a ripple effect down the board. As it stands now, the Bengals are widely believed to be leaning toward A.J. Green. If Gabbert or Newton are the pick there, assuming they’re still available, one of the Cardinals and Browns — picking 5 and 6 respectively — will have a tough decision to make.
6. How will the lack of a free agency period prior to the draft affect things this weekend?
This again primarily goes back to the quarterbacks. Kevin Kolb, Marc Bulger and Donovan McNabb are three guys who would have likely found new homes by now had it been business as usual. That’s at least three teams going into the draft with their QB needs unfulfilled. It’s also a reason why many are predicting at least eight QBs being taken in the first three rounds which has never happened in the history of the NFL according to Mike Mayock.
7. Can Bill Belichick actually use the draft picks he has stockpiled or will he flip some of them to stockpile more for next year? And how many times will he trade down and still pick the guy he wanted plus get extra picks?
The Pats pick 17th and 28th in the first round, 33rd and 60th in the second and have two more in the third. Belichick does not have a sixth or seventh-round pick in 2012 which is heresy in Belichick’s mind. Look for him to move down at some point this year and re-acquire some of those late picks for next year’s draft. Belichick won’t be the only one moving up or down in this draft if all the reports are to be believed.
8. How low will Clemson DE Da’Quan Bowers fall?
Knee surgery in January and a pushed back pro day that was less than stellar have hurt Bowers. Prior to the surgery he was in the Marcell Dareus area of this draft. Now he could fall all the way to the bottom of the first round. What teams have to determine is if there is long-term damage to the knee or if it’s just temporary. Bowers wouldn’t be the first guy to fall and make the teams who passed on him pay.
9. Will OG/C Mike Pouncey make good on his bid to get drafted earlier than his twin brother Maurkice last year with the Steelers?
The Steelers may yet make this happen for him. Reports late Tuesday night suggested the Steelers are investigating trading up to ensure they can reunite the brothers on the Pittsburgh offensive line. Maurkice Pouncey was selected 18th overall and was one of only five members of his draft class to be selected to the Pro Bowl.
10. Who will be this year’s Marc Mariani?
Say what? The Montana alum was selected in the 7th round (222nd overall) by the Tennessee Titans last year and made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist. Now that’s getting value deep into the draft.
11. Will any team use a first-round pick on a running back?
Another trend that seems to make little or no sense is holding off on running backs because you can always find value later. Alabama’s Marc Ingram is the highest rated back on the board and a former Heisman Trophy winner. There are some injury concerns, but should a guy of this talent slip to the second round because of a trend?
12. Will Danny Watkins’ late start in the sport and his subsequent advanced age keep him out of the first round? And what about Orlando Franklin? Does this quietly become the greatest NFL draft in history for Canadian football?
Watkins is one of the great stories of this draft. A fireman who all but fell into football pursuing his firefighting aspirations and now a potential first rounder. He turns 27 this fall but has a mean streak on the field that NFL coaches love. Another interesting one to watch.
13. Will Seattle trade up to get the QB they want?
Matt Hasselbeck’s time may be over and unless Charlie Whitehurst is the answer, the Seahawks join a long list of teams looking for a quarterback. At 25, they may have to trade up if the run on QBs begins earlier. Minnesota at 12, and Miami at 15, might be the beginning.
14. Will teams overlook Ryan Mallett’s off-field issues and take a leap of faith that one of the most NFL ready quarterbacks in the draft can become a solid citizen in the NFL?
Big risk, potential big reward with this pick. Miami took a long look at this guy and need a quarterback. If a team is convinced they can deal with whatever (if any) off-field issues he brings, Mallett could be the steal of the QB class ... or he could be Brady Quinn.
15. Do any teams with established quarterbacks on their roster jump into the QB fray?
You’ve got Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees already. Is this the year you start planning for his eventual departure. Lot of interesting guys here who could use three or four years under an experienced hand to develop. This could muck up the QB picture even more.
15.5. Will TCU quarterback Andy Dalton’s red hair keep him from being a high draft pick?
We say this mostly in jest but when coaches ask about the historical success of red-haired quarterbacks it deserves to be mocked repeatedly. Dalton is one to watch on draft day. There are some draft specialists that have him going as high as No. 8 to Tennessee. Check out his year-by-year progress at TCU. It’s impressive.
16. Which Alabama school will be the first with two guys off the board? Auburn or Alabama?
Odds are that it will be Auburn and they may have two off the board before Alabama has one although not likely at this point. But if so, why?
Fairley and Newton are one-year wonders while Ingram and Jones are three-year, All-America starters and Marcell Dareus a two-year All-American on what is currently the best program in the country. Granted both Newton and Fairley had legendary, all-time seasons, but is there not something to be said about bodies of work?
17. What do the Bills do in Round 2?
Assuming they do not take a QB in Round 1, and one of the above mentioned QBs is staring them in the face as well as a franchise-type TE like perhaps Kyle Rudolph, which way do they go? Bills’ TEs were the least productive in a league that is pass happy. So which takes priority? A future passer or a guy who starts right away for the next 10 years?
18. Which abysmal team is likely to be abysmal again in 2011 (for argument’s sake we’ll include the Panthers, Bills, Cardinals, Titans and Redskins) and effectively takes itself out of the running for Andrew Luck in 2012 by drafting a QB in the first round this year?
And even beyond Luck, superior prospects Matt Barkley and Landry Jones should be there in 2012. Can an NFL executive possibly be given any chance to think beyond a 12-month horizon? Luck is easily the best QB prospect since Peyton Manning, with Barkley not far behind.